October 16 2020

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

Official Microsoft Blog Embracing a flexible workplace
Over the past few months, we have learned so much about productivity, flexibility, resilience and compassion. We have been working in ways we never thought possible, including managing necessary safety precautions, learning to connect with small or large teams while presenting to a screen, taking care of family and friends while being in the next room on calls, adjusting hours to address new demands and so much more.

NPR More Companies Are Using Technology To Monitor For Coronavirus In The Workplace
In March, Dr. Achintya Moulick found himself at the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic. He oversees three CarePoint Health hospitals in northern New Jersey and in the early days of the pandemic, they were swamped. “We had no idea what this infection was all about,” he says. One of the first challenges was screening patients for COVID-19 even before they entered the hospital.

Dayton 24/7 Local company debuts self-disinfecting N95 mask technology
A local startup is moving forward with the development of self-disinfecting technology for N95 masks, which could be a game-changer toward the fight against Covid-19. Advanced and Innovative Multifunctional Materials LLC (AIMM) — a technology startup specializing in antimicrobial coatings for porous materials — is on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic by creating self-disinfecting technology for N95 respirator masks.

Fierce Healthcare Google, Optum, Microsoft team up on $13M challenge to prevent next pandemic
Google, Optum and Microsoft are teaming up with leading universities and foundations on a new initiative that aims to use data and analytics to learn from the global response to COVID-19. The goal is to better prepare the world for the next pandemic. The Trinity Challenge, initially announced in September, will offer about $13 million in funding to recognize and reward insights and innovations across areas including economics, behavioral sciences and epidemiology.

Bloomberg YouTube to Pull Clips Questioning Authorities on Covid Vaccines
YouTube will begin taking down videos that spread misinformation about vaccines to treat the coronavirus, the company said on Wednesday. The new policy applies to clips with content that contradicts “expert consensus” from local health authorities and the World Health Organization. This includes claims that Covid-19 vaccines will kill people or cause infertility, or that microchips will be implanted in people who get these treatments, the company said.


Microsoft On the Issues New action to combat ransomware ahead of U.S. elections
Today we took action to disrupt a botnet called Trickbot, one of the world’s most infamous botnets and prolific distributors of ransomware. As the United States government and independent experts have warned, ransomware is one of the largest threats to the upcoming elections. Adversaries can use ransomware to infect a computer system used to maintain voter rolls or report on election-night results, seizing those systems at a prescribed hour optimized to sow chaos and distrust.

WIRED Facebook Tweaked Its Rules, but You Can Still Target Voters
Facebook said on Wednesday it will temporarily suspend political advertising after Election Day, November 3. It’s the latest in a series of moves by the social media giant to limit the manipulation that marked the 2016 presidential campaign. But researchers and political strategists say campaigns can still use Facebook to target the voters that they do—and don’t—want to vote. The UK’s Channel 4 last month reported that President Trump’s 2016 campaign used data from Cambridge Analytica and other sources to identify Black voters who they thought could be dissuaded from voting.

Associated Press Cut cable shuts down Virginia voter portal; lawsuit filed
An accidentally severed fiber optic cable that shut down Virginia’s online voter registration system for several hours Tuesday, the last day to register before the November general election, has prompted a lawsuit from a civil rights organization. The Virginia Department of Elections said in a statement on Twitter that a “fiber cut” affected connectivity for multiple agencies, including the department’s citizen portal and registrar’s offices. The cable was inadvertently cut during a Chesterfield County roadside utilities project, according to the state’s information technology agency.

Cyberscoop As voters cast their ballots, courts nationwide issue election security edicts
Legal battles with election security implications raged across the country over the holiday weekend, even with early voting well underway at historic levels in many states. In no state did those two things coincide more than in Georgia. Peach State voters amassed in lines marked by reports of 10-hour waits on Tuesday, following two key court rulings. Northern District of Georgia Judge Amy Totenberg on Sunday denied a bid to scuttle touch screen voting machines over cybersecurity vulnerabilities. On Monday, she also denied a request to require a specific number of emergency ballots to be on hand at Georgia polling sites.


Axios White House pushes Pentagon to jumpstart a national 5G network
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is leaning on the Pentagon to move ahead with a plan to stand up a 5G wireless network, sources tell Axios, and the idea, despite opposition from key government and private-sector players, could well outlive the Trump administration. The Department of Defense could lease out capacity to wireless carriers and other companies in need of the ubiquitous, high-speed connectivity that 5G technology promises.

C4ISR Net Pentagon announces $600M in 5G experiments
The U.S. Department of Defense announced $600 million in contracts for 5G experiments Thursday evening for projects at five military bases across the country. The long-anticipated awards are for a series of 5G experiments, including smart warehouses, advanced radars, and augmented and virtual reality capabilities. The awards are part of a Pentagon effort to work with commercial vendors to advance the 5G capabilities of both the department and industry.

Mobile World Live FCC, USAID push US 5G views abroad
The US ramped efforts to spread its 5G policies abroad, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and US Agency for International Development (USAID) teamed to influence development of the technology in emerging markets. Under a memorandum of understanding, the agencies will coordinate efforts to steer developing countries away from so-called “untrusted vendors”, and encourage use of “open, interoperable, reliable and secure” network infrastructure.

TechHQ Space becoming next ‘front’ of cyber warfare
Every day, nation-states trade blows with one another in the cybersphere. State-sponsored attacks comprise more than a quarter of all cyberattacks. They don’t just threaten government organizations: all businesses are at risk. State-led attacks deliberately resemble those of rogue groups in it for financial gain. But funded by government bankrolls, and deployed for espionage and to shake and disrupt national economies, they can deal serious damage in an age where cybersecurity faces a dearth of talent and budget.

The Verge US joins six countries in new call for backdoor encryption access
On Monday, the US Division of Justice signed on to a brand new worldwide assertion warning of the hazards of encryption and calling for an industry-wide effort to allow regulation enforcement businesses to entry encrypted information as soon as a warrant has been obtained. The US was joined within the effort by officers representing the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, and Japan. The assertion begins by acknowledging the worth of encryption in defending free expression internationally, citing a 2017 report from the UN Human Rights Fee.


TechCrunch Microsoft and partners aim to shrink the ‘data desert’ limiting accessible AI
AI-based tools like computer vision and voice interfaces have the potential to be life-changing for people with disabilities, but the truth is those AI models are usually built with very little data sourced from those people. Microsoft is working with several nonprofit partners to help make these tools reflect the needs and everyday realities of people living with conditions like blindness and limited mobility. Consider for example a computer vision system that recognizes objects and can describe what is, for example, on a table.

Nasdaq Microsoft in deal with Equinor for Norway CO2 storage project
Microsoft Corp MSFT.O on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding with Norway’s Equinor EQNR.OL to explore the use of a carbon dioxide storage facility as the tech firm seeks to cut its carbon footprint, the Norwegian oil ministry said. The world’s largest software company pledged in January to remove enough CO2 by 2050 to account for all its emissions since its founding in 1975, and to invest $1 billion in a carbon removal technology.

Forbes Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Calls For “Referendum On Capitalism”
Amid a global pandemic, months-long protests over racial inequality and a bitterly contested election, the CEO of the world’s second largest public company says now is the time for America to reimagine capitalism. “It’s fair, in today in 2020, in the midst of this pandemic, to essentially have a referendum on capitalism,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, said Wednesday during the Forbes JUST 100 virtual summit.

New York Times No Home, No Wi-Fi: Pandemic Adds to Strain on Poor College Students
Michelle Macario was struggling to follow online classes through the tiny screen of her smartphone. She had no laptop and no Wi-Fi at home, and the library where she normally studied at her community college in Los Angeles was closed. So two weeks into the coronavirus shutdown in the spring, she dropped all of her courses to avoid failing. Things are not much better this semester. Ms. Macario, 18, who is majoring in psychology at Santa Monica College, left the crowded apartment in Los Angeles that she shared with her immigrant family from Guatemala and has been crashing with her sister and friends.

Ars Technica SpaceX gets FCC approval to bid in $16 billion rural-broadband auction
SpaceX is one of the 386 entities that have qualified to bid in a federal auction for rural-broadband funding. SpaceX has so far overcome the Federal Communications Commission’s doubts about whether Starlink, its low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite service, can provide latency of less than 100ms and thus qualify for the auction’s low-latency tier. With the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) set to distribute up to $16 billion to ISPs, the FCC initially placed SpaceX on the “incomplete application” list, which includes ISPs that had not shown they were qualified to bid in their desired performance and latency tiers.

Financial Times After deepfakes, a new frontier of AI trickery: fake faces
“Alfonzo Macias” looks unremarkable at first glance — bearded, bespectacled, with a short widow’s peak. But his strangely distorted glasses and the dissolving background behind him hint at a discomforting truth: Mr Macias never existed. Undetectable to the naked eye, the uncannily human face is in fact the creation of an algorithm — one used by pro-Trump media outlet TheBL to give an identity to one of the many fake Facebook accounts that it uses to drive traffic to its website.

Medical Xpress Using artificial intelligence to predict cardiovascular disease
An international team of researchers has developed a way to use artificial intelligence to predict the risk of a patient developing cardiovascular disease. In their paper published in the journal Nature Biological Engineering, the group describes using retinal blood vessel scans as a data-source for a deep learning system to teach it to recognize the signs of cardiovascular disease in people.

PhysOrg Deep learning artificial intelligence keeps an eye on volcano movements
RADAR satellites can collect massive amounts of remote sensing data that can detect ground movements—surface deformations—at volcanoes in near real time. These ground movements could signal impending volcanic activity and unrest; however, clouds and other atmospheric and instrumental disturbances can introduce significant errors in those ground movement measurements.

NBC News In Singapore, facial recognition is getting woven into everyday life
Singapore already boasts one of the world’s most advanced national digital identity programs, SingPass, which residents can use for more than 400 digital services, including accessing tax returns and applying for public housing. Now, they can use it with just their faces. Singapore’s 4 million people will be able to access government services and more through a new facial verification feature in its national identity program, the country announced in July.


The Brookings Institution

  • Interactive report on modernizing American infrastructure and transportation.
    The physical design of neighborhoods—from the density of their buildings to how they dedicate space for transportation—has far-reaching impacts on how people choose to travel. Reducing the physical distance between destinations and supporting proximity can allow for greater transportation choice and generate a range of shared benefits, including a cleaner environment, safer and more affordable transportation, and lower infrastructure costs. Yet for decades, planners, policymakers, and other leaders across metropolitan America have overwhelmingly pursued land use and transportation policies that solely promote automobile use. Low-density neighborhoods, extensive highway construction, and a near-singular focus on congestion have stretched the distances between where people live and where they travel. Consequently, transportation is now the top source of greenhouse gas emissions, vehicle costs are the second-largest household expense, and roadway injuries and fatalities are on the rise. This report uses data from digital tracking technologies to measure local travel habits in new ways, including by trip purpose and distance. Across six metro areas, we found that the distance of the average trip—to work, to the store, or to school, for example—exceeds 7 miles. For many individuals, the only choice for traveling such distances is by car, which contributes to the social, environmental, affordability, and public health challenges facing so many communities. (Interactives – Connecting people and places: Exploring new measures of travel behavior, October 2020)

The Cato Institute

  • Blog on Social Media And Election Interference
    Earlier this week, the New York Post published articles containing information about alleged emails between Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and employees at Chinese and Ukrainian energy firms. Twitter and Facebook both took steps to limit the spread of the articles, prompting accusations of “election interference.” Prominent Republican lawmakers took to social media to condemn Twitter’s and Facebook’s decisions. These accusations and condemnations reveal a misunderstanding of policy that could result in dramatic changes to online speech. According to Twitter, the company restricted access to the New York Post’s articles because it violated the company’s policies against spreading personal and private information (such as email addresses and phone numbers) and hacked materials. Twitter cited the same policy when it prohibited users from sharing 269GB of leaked police files. Twitter users who click on links to the two Post articles face a click‐​though “this link may be unsafe” warning. The articles in question include such information in images of the leaked emails. Those accusing Twitter of a double standard because the company allows users to share the recent New York Times article based on the president’s leaked tax documents neglect the fact that the New York Times did not publish images of the documents. Although consistent with Twitter’s policies, the decision to block the spread of the Post’s articles on Twitter absent an explanation or context was criticized by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. (Cato At Liberty – Accusations of Social Media “Election Interference” Put Online Speech at Risk, October 15, 2020)

Note: Voices for Innovation regularly shares a range of opinion articles and press releases from organizations in and publications covering tech policy. These pieces are meant to educate our audience, not to endorse specific platforms or bills.